The cultural practice of Uku’Thwala, or forced marriages, has been spoken about in Parliament by 17 year old Bhelekhazi Pama, as part of her fight for the rights of young women in the Eastern Cape.
Uku’Thwala is a cultural practice where young girls are forced into marriage to older men, common in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces.
“I was so scared to speak at Parliament, but I knew I had to find the courage because the girls who are forced into marriage are my sisters - it happens around my area and I’ve seen it,” said Pama.
Bhelekazi Pama, a member of a Girls club in the Eastern Cape first had her story on forced marriages, published on the web, and as a result won the Eastern Cape High School student Parliamentary Speech.
Bhelekazi was also involved in an exhibition of photographs taken by herself and her Eastern Cape Club. After the photos were published, she was invited with several others in her club to speak at a National Street Children Alliance conference about the most challenging experiences of growing up as a young woman in the Eastern Cape.
A representative from the Children’s Rights Institute at the conference heardPama’s speech on forced marriage and was so stirred by the young woman that she invited her to write a piece on the impact of forced marriage.
The piece was submitted and Pama, who wants to major in Political Science or Public Administration once she’s in university, was invited to speak at Parliament to influence legislation on a child rights bill.
“It is a crucial thing. We ourselves, as girls, need to act even if nothing negative has happened to us-for the sake of others. Our generation has the responsibility of protecting freedoms, which our leaders fought for and we want people to hear about what we actually go through. We don’t want to be excluded, resented or censored.”
The prevalence of these forced marriages in the communities where ActionAid South Africa works first surfaced through our work with a partner organisation Women/Girls net.
Recently the South African Justice Department has stepped in to curb the practice of Uku’Thwala and enforce laws that protect children from it.